Tag Archives: Cancer

3/24/14: The day I turned in my Honors English Thesis

To be honest, this is probably the most important thing that I’ve done in my life.

My Honors English thesis

I know it sounds dramatic, but I can’t help but think that it’s true. I’ve been excited about writing a thesis since coming to college. I had no idea what it would be about, but I loved the idea of turning my own thoughts into something new. My English teacher once told me that I was a seeker; I enjoy turning to literature for answers and embracing its ambiguity. And in many ways, that is what I’ve done in my Honors English thesis.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around just how much of myself I’ve devoted to this research. But in many ways, this thesis is the culminating creation of my entire undergraduate education here at Michigan and more. Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients in high school initially piqued my interest; now, I’ve become dedicated to hopefully getting involved in childhood cancer as a physician. I needed to do this research: for these individuals with cancer who have had such an impact on my life but also for me, as a way of making sense of these unfathomable lives.

These final days have also been a time for remembering how fortunate I am to have so many people in my life supporting me. A close friend willingly contributed an extra set of eyes and an additional brain towards the editing process. From front to back, my mom read my entire thesis for typos. My dad morally supported me in the final stretch, and even my brother helped me to perfect the images. It’s been humbling to watch my loved ones step aside from their lives and devote their time to my own project.

Throughout the process, I’ve said that all I wanted was to be able to turn my thesis in knowing that I did everything I could and that I personally am happy with it. By my own standards, I believe that I’ve successfully accomplished this goal, and I couldn’t be more content.

If nothing else, the fact that I found myself eager to write this blog post and excited to dive into John Green’s  The Fault in Our Stars to celebrate  says something to me. I know that in studying literature, I’ve truly been doing something I love.

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

Week 6: Meeting Cancer, the “Emperor of All Maladies”

With a day full of rain, hail, and even thunder-snow, we elected to spend classtime watching the film adaptation of Margaret Edson’s play W;t. We decided to save our discussion of Audre Lorde, Angelina Jolie, and breast cancer for the following week, where guest speaker Dr. Janet Gilsdorf was coming in to speak about her experiences as a physician and as a breast cancer patient. I had been worried about how to show excerpts of W;t and do the film justice (I think it’s an incredibly powerful work), so I was happy to be able to show it to them in its entirety.

Lesson Plan Week 6

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Being Thankful for Cancer: A Huffington Post article

This Huffington Post article caught my eye:

Dear Cancer, This Is How You’ve Made Me Thankful.

Zoe Lintzers reflects on how she has observed the experiences of loved ones with cancer, and how cancer has helped her to better appreciate the simple pleasures of life: She writes perceptively about these experiences and her own realizations, presenting a convincing argument for what others can learn from disease and human suffering. Is illness something we should be thankful for? Despite the revelations that it may catalyze, does it demand our gratitude?

It was sometimes hard for me to look beyond some of her diction choices, though. She mentions the aunts she lost to cancer. Then she proceeds to tell of how  “[t]here are the brave others in my family who have been diagnosed in the past six years and are in remission, having triumphed over a disease that makes our eyes widen and our hearts crumble upon hearing that initial diagnosis. But they’ve prevailed and, to me, are the strongest people I know.”

But what does this mean for those whose lives were lost to cancer? Were they not brave? Just because they were unable to successfully triumph over their disease, does that imply something about their strength?

I’m sure that these were not intentional questions that Lintzers meant to imply. But sometimes I feel that this can be the danger of using what Arthur Frank called “the triumph narrative.” It’s interesting to me how prevalent this language is when it comes to communicating illness experiences. Especially with cancer, a disease in which war is literally waged against one’s body. But there needs to be an increased awareness of the latent effects of the triumph narrative.

Lintzers does, however, successfully portray her personal experiences with cancer as both a painful experience but also an enlightening one: “Cancer made me see that this is what it — life — is all about.”

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Literary Narratives, Miscellaneous Musings

‘Brave’ Pediatric Oncology Patients at UMinnessota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital

“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”

The lyrics of Sara Bareilles’ song Brave struck me. They reminded me of the purpose behind my research and my Honors English thesis: to give children and adolescents a chance to tell their own stories. And, to give all those involved the opportunity to listen, to better understand how these children and adolescents cope with the complex, mysterious illness of cancer. In my mind, the bravery arises in how children are talking and writing about their intimate experiences with cancer.

From Stronger to Roar and now Brave, my emotions are mixed about these charged music videos about the sphere of pediatric oncology. While the Stronger and Roar videos ask for donations to support childhood cancer research in the caption, this video of Brave only links to additional information about the programs offered. I wonder, how does the purpose behind these videos affect how we should respond to them?

I have to say, one of the best things about these music videos is that they counter common misconceptions about childhood cancer. Every time I tell someone that I want to be a pediatric oncologist, people stare at me and say, “Oh. That’s so depressing” or “That’s so sad!”. I’m not saying that it’s not going to be an emotionally challenging career, but at the same time, these are truly incredible and lively children. These videos portray the fun and joy  that is also part of pediatric oncology. These children embrace their passions and make the most of their time in hospitals by playing games, making crafts, and finding reasons to laugh.

That’s why these videos make me smile.

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Dance, Film, Theatre

one year/one minute: A Timelapse through Chemotherapy

1 photo per week. 52 weeks in a year. 1 years worth of photos, all in 1 minute.

A powerful series of snapshots that invite us to witness the transformations of chemotherapy.

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Filed under Film, Visualizing Illness

A Childhood Cancer take on Katy Perry’s Roar

Similar to Seattle Children’s Hospital’s performance of Stronger by pediatric oncology patients and staff, the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock did their own rendition of Katy Perry’s song Roar. This powerful video unites pediatric oncology patients, their families, and the healthcare professionals that treat them come together to sing how “you’re going to hear me roar.”

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Film, Uncategorized, Voice

Sharing the Clinical Relevance of Narrative at the UM Pediatrics Research Symposium

Instead of numerical values and statistics, my poster shared the words and phrases of children with cancer.  Amidst colorful posters with tables and graphs, my poster was adorned with drawings by pediatric oncology patients, such as cancer as a half-angel, half-devil being.

The 24th Annual Pediatric Research Symposium at the University of Michigan struck me as an interesting opportunity to share my narrative research with clinical pediatricians. I just began delving deeper into these narratives through a literary lens, and I enjoyed the challenge of reframing and furthering my analysis of these narratives for a medical audience. What does narrative illuminate about the living experience of childhood cancer? How do children conceptualize cancer and make sense of their illness experiences? And how can these narratives of pediatric oncology patients inform those who care for them?

Writing this abstract required more than inverting the active tense valued by the humanities to the passive tense valued in scientific writing. Designing this poster forced me to distill the numerous conversations and narratives that I have collected into a direct, concise argument. It was an incredibly helpful, albeit challenging, process.

From nearby poster presenters to practicing pediatric oncologists and more, it was interesting to discuss my research with a broad range of people and receive different feedback. One conversation in particular really resonated with me. A neighboring poster presenter asked me about my work, then confessed that she worked with pediatric oncology patients as a social worker for years. She said that it was a difficult and challenging position, one that ultimately surged her into depression because it was too much. To be able to work so intimately with these children, she said, “you need some kind of ‘distance.'”

This “distance” intrigues me. As we discussed this further, she explained that social workers preoccupy themselves primarily with the patients and families facing death, the ones struggling most with the interruptions of cancer. Physicians, on the other hand, have the chance to experience the broad range of paths that patients follow with cancer. The successful treatments, the ineffective drug regimens. This spectrum of outcomes helps give physicians perspective, but social workers by nature are honed in on the more despondent stories.

Is “distance” necessary for the emotional challenges of pediatric oncology? And if it is, what exactly does this imply about the impact of these childhood cancer narratives?  I wonder, how might these narratives complicate and possibly challenge this notion of ‘distance’?

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

Slate: Stigmas of Cancer

An interesting article about the various stigmas of cancer and their implications:

Cancer stigma: Don’t blame patients for their disease, no matter what the risk factors.

Which leads me to question, what are the stigmas of childhood cancer?

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings

Block Out Cancer: Helping Children Tell Their Stories

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital has a campaign for childhood cancer awareness month: Block Out Cancer. Block Out Cancer is “a rallying cry for people from all walks of life to come together to support the fight against children’s cancers.”

I’m honored that Mott has featured this blog post I wrote about my project:

My name is Trisha, and I help children tell their stories to Block Out Cancer.

mott-blog-BOC-thumb

 

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Literary Narratives

Very Much Better: A Survivor Reflects and Relives Childhood Cancer

“Cancer was everywhere. There was no moment, thought, idea, ache or pain, burst of energy or breathless moment that didn’t change, or wasn’t changed by my cancer– there was always a piece of it with me, somewhere, in something.” (67)

very much betterJason Greer’s memoir Very Much Better holds within it a piece of his cancer. Diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on the brink of adolescence, Greer leaves behind his hometown in Montana for the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. But he finds strength in support from his loved ones, family and friends . For Greer, “faith…is the crying from inside the soul to plunge into living”; his beliefs energize him throughout his journey (117).

Greer smoothly melds his retroactive retelling of the past with “a look back” from his present point of view. We become familiar with Greer as an 11-year old boy and as a  grown-up adult, the during and the after of cancer, and we witness how the disease matures him hastily. He intersperses medical terms such as “pre-op” or “outpatient,” denoting their foreign nature by quotation marks (10;14). With witty chapter titles like “The Art of Throwing Up” and “The Cancer Patient’s Guide to Duct Tape,” personality and a sense of humor shine through each adventure (xi).

What struck me most about Greer’s memoir was his powerful grasp of his experiences. Particularly eloquent was his ability to capture one of the most emotional aspects of coping with childhood cancer: losing others to the disease. The deaths of Erik, Chad, and Jesse are each heart-wrenching in their own right, and Greer illuminates their important place within his own cancer experiences.

“Cancer threatened each of us, for a time was inescapable, and seemed to be everywhere. But as we sat in the company of each other’s encouragement, we surrounded the disease — and we defied it, every part of it” (83).

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Literary Narratives